My life on the road: stranded in Wyoming

Few things can fuck an RV up worse than a frozen water system. Grey, black and potable water tanks, water pumps and the delicate tubing that run through the undercarriage and into the living area of a motorhome don't do well when exposed to subzero temperatures. Some RVs, like ours, come with blowers that force warm air from the furnace into the undercarriage. Others, like our old rig, have systems that draw power from the chassis battery to keep the tanks heated and the liquid inside of them, well, liquid.

We started our first day headed south at -4° Celsius. We assumed that we'd be able to make it to Lethbridge, Alberta, a few hours south of Calgary. The overnight temperature would dip to -10° there. Fading headlights and the encroaching dark forced to a halt, short of our goal, in Claresholm. There, the overnight temperature dipped to -17°.

We knew that we could weather the weather in Lethbridge. Claresholm, cold as it was, would have been a test we weren't prepared to sit for. Fortunately, we were able to find a hotel. Even more fortunate was the fact that we'd winterized our RV well before the first cold. Our tanks were drained dry. Our lines were wetted with anti-freeze. For the first three days of our trip south, we traveled without any water, save what we brought with us in bottles. We used it to flush our toilet, brush our teeth, make coffee and wash. On the end of the third night, we felt it warm enough to risk de-winterizing the RV. Where we normally would spend our evening in a Walmart parking lot or a rest station somewhere on the Interstate, we instead pulled into a campground just outside of Billings. We flushed and filled our fresh water system.

Or so we thought.

Despite topping off the tank, we had no water pressure. Our pump was running, but to no end: there was no toilet flushing. No showers. No dish washing. We guessed our water pump's diaphragm had seized. We wouldn't hazard a wrench to find out. Just below freezing is still below freezing. It's not the sort of weather that you want to tinker with a water system in. Despite our tanks being full, we'd go on, sans water, until we reached a region where working the issue out felt more desirable.

We unhooked from shore power.

We retracted our stabilizers.

We immediately noticed that one of our rear tires looked a bit low.

It wouldn't fill past 100psi–10 to 20psi below where we wanted it to be. Still, it seemed sound.

So we drove.

The forecast called for snow. We veered south, eyeing Cheyenne. Once there, we'd decide whether to continue south or head east–whichever would keep us out of the weather.

By midday, we'd made Casper, Wyoming. The snow had been steady, but thin. The roads were clear. We'd made good time. We eyed a truck stop on the far side of the city where we could pick up more water, fuel and walk the dog. I pumped diesel. The dog peed. All was well.

"The tire's looking really low," my wife tells me.

"Same one?"

"Same one." The truck-stop had a free air pump. We're into that. She says to score her a Cinnabon while she fills the tire. I do. Upon returning, I discover that, in addition to a Cinnabon, she also has bad news. Our valve stem is leaking.


She agrees.

The air leaks out as fast as she can put it in. I nod in the direction of the truck stop: I'd see if they know of anyone who can do tire repairs on a weekend. She goes back to futzing. A man with an epic beard and a friendly hound overhears our woes and walks over to see if he can lend a hand. Inside I'm handed a slip of paper with a number of phone numbers on it. I walk back outside as my wife's walking in. She tells me that the side wall of the tire blew out on her as she made one final attempt to fill it up. The helpful stranger thought that new valve cover might help us to limp into town for repair. She tells me that it exploded next to her ear. It was kin to a gunshot. She couldn't hear for a few moments after it happened. Had the tire blown outwards instead of inwards, I would not be having this conversation with her. We both know it. She's flush. I feel numb. We both agree that there would be a drink had.

After all, we weren't going anywhere.

One of the numbers we'd been given was open for business. There'd be no tires for us until Monday, however. The mechanic we spoke with could see the tires in inventory, but couldn't get his hands on them. We'd have to wait.

There are worse places to be stranded than at a truck-stop for a few days. There's food here. Hot showers and a laundry. There are worse places for a blowout as well. Had it happened while we were driving, the tire might have disintegrated, taking out our wheel well, the contents of the compartments surrounding it or doing damage to the Jeep we pull behind us.

I know this, because it has happened to our Jeep.

While pulling it behind us, just outside of Amarillo last winter, its wheels locked up. The Jeep was dragged. Perhaps as little as a few blocks. Perhaps longer. We didn't hear it. We did not feel it. The weight of the Jeep to our RV is much like the weight of a hat on your head. All looked fine in our rear camera, as well. By the time that someone signaled to us that there was a problem, one of the Jeep's tires had disintegrated, taking our front bumper, front quarter panel and bending one of our struts.

When your home is on wheels, so much can happen. So much does happen. Much of it is wonderful. Some of it isn't.